by Constance Hull

This year I perceive a sad, mournful thread
Old-timers proclaim: “Burning Man’s dead!”
Too many people, too many cars
Too many rules and too many scars.

The notion of “radical self-expression”
Has suffered corrosion by massive suppression
Once hailed an escape from the world we’d depart
Seems burdened by mischief and vandals of art.

How can our Burning Man stay alive?
“Leave No Trace” and “Gifting” still thrive?
We must dig deep within our souls
Recall those passionate, creative goals!

That which we seek when wide-eyed we came
As virgins entranced towards this huge burning flame
Still flickers with hope! Our embers ignite
Rekindled by joy each year we unite.

The Man Has No Hands: The Abridged Diary of a Virgin Burner (Excerpts)

by Pete Lee


PRIOR TO ATTENDING THE BURN, I committed a mistake that would be typical of a virgin. My naïveté had convinced me that I knew what Burning Man was going to be like. Why wouldn’t I? I had spent years reading the Burning Man website. I had engaged in many hours of conversations about Burning Man with long-time veterans. And, I think I’d be correct to say that, compared to average society, I’ve had a varied life: camp counselor, wilderness rescuer, salesman, EMT, journalist, world traveler, assistant director for independent films and technology consultant-just to name a few. What haven’t I already experienced?

I soon discovered the answer. A lot.

I write this because friends who haven’t gone need me to, and friends who have gone will ask me about it. I am writing this because I love my friends, but can be lazy at times. I don’t know whether or not I’ll feel like talking about it now, then, in the future, or at all, so this is a bit of insurance against complacency. It’s about love, people.

I’ve also written this because, perhaps, my laziness isn’t as much laziness, but frustration. Have you ever tried to explain color to a blind man? Now you see.

Within the continuum of this diary, you will discover my perspective on why I love The Burn, and why it changed me. Change that didn’t occur because of one particular experience, but a sum of many incredible moments. I would be truly happy if something in this diary jogs your mind, and reminds you of a moment of bliss, terror, or enlightenment that has happened to you. Right now, your experience, dear reader, is more important than mine.

Before I continue, I have an ethical responsibility to communicate a bit of mundane business at this time to those who have not been to Burning Man. Inspired by a comment sagely noted by my housemate Rich, I need to note that the experiences of an individual at Burning Man are wholly, solely, ineffably, and completely their own. Those who show up create a uniquely personal experience, the results of a nebulous formula that includes factors such as a desire to participate, willingness to take healthy risks, and good old fate (thanks, Shiva!). Nothing I write here should be construed as a description of Burning Man. I am certain of only my own experience… and even that I question as I sally forth into the dark night of the soul that begins this diary. Of only one thing I am certain: I was meant to share it with you.

Reasons Why I Shamelessly Obfuscated the Fact That I Had Bought My Ticket In May

1. I was ashamed of the stupidity of why I told people for years that I wanted to come, but didn’t really try hard enough. Even after years of attempting to convince me to go. [Looking back, I now know that I would be ready when I was ready.]

2. I wanted absolute power over controlling exactly who I wanted to participate and hang out with.

3. Isn’t there an element of obfuscation in the Burning Man Experience?

4. I swear, the devil made me do it! (Specifically, Uncle Satan and Miss Inferno.)

Reasons Why Most of My Friends Knew Differently

1. Showed up to too many incredibly fun and inspiring craft nights and “men’s knitting circles” involving way too many power tools.

2. Some folks had heard my excuse that work was the reason, and knew I had become unemployed.

3. Wasn’t a funny joke anymore for some.

4. Evil mind powers used against me.

Some Other Great Reasons

1. Hey, Tiger Wedding. GRRRR!

2. “Dude, we’re at Center Camp this year! On the grid! Near ice!”

3. Burning Man is probably going to be cancelled next year.

4. Our neighbors include an AA group, the Intergalactic House of Pancakes, and a Jazz club.

5. We have four freaking Art Cars-this is ridiculous!

6. Drunken whining/cajoling/threatening fifteen minute conversations about “Pete why aren’t you coming? WHY WHY WHY?” will finally stop, thank god.

Reasons Why It Took Me Three Years to Drive To Burning Man

1. “I’d love to but I have debt to pay off, and it sounds kind of expensive.”

2. “It’s just a big party/rave/art festival.”

3. “You know, I’d really love to go this year, but my work really needs me.”

4. “Yeah, but I’ve done and experienced lots of things like that already.”

5. “I’d rather take that time and money to do something really interesting, like travel abroad.”

Responses My Friends Gave to Call Me on My Bullshit and Make My Drive Much Shorter Next Year

1. “What the hell do you really spend your money on?”

2. “Burning Man is not a rave, and has not had a rave camp since 1996.” (a quote from the FAQ at the Burning Man website)

3. “Gee Pete, are you really meaning to say that your employer can’t live without you for a few days. Sounds like you might have an ego problem.” (Marcus)

4. “Oh no you haven’t! Trust me. Let’s talk about this.”

5. (If I was really wanting to do that, why haven’t I made good on threats to travel to Asia or Europe within the last three years?)

Quotes & Greeters

THERE IS AN AMAZING AMOUNT OF EFFECTIVE WISDOM CONTAINED WITHIN THE POETIC, COMPACT AND ELEGANT CONFINES OF A GREAT QUOTE. Some turning points in my life have happened because someone told me something I needed and was ready to hear at a precise moment.

As we wended our way to the gates of Black Rock City, we read what seemed like hundreds of signs. Each had parts of quotes. Some quotes I wasn’t sure what to think of. Some, I was moved and inspired by. Others, I was surprised to see: notably, the writings of Teresa of Avila-quotes from Catholic mystics aren’t something I would expect to see at an event shallowly described by some to be a “pagan festival.” And, the requisite contrast: “BELIEVE ALL SIGNS BUT THIS ONE.”

As I cross through the gates, our car is greeted by someone in rather strange attire. I can’t remember exactly how the dress looked, but it had a busty, white, shiny, feathery quality to it. One would not expect this from a greeter at Wal-Mart. And, before I could reconcile my mind with this circumstance, we were yanked out of our car by people yelling “Virgins!” and were commanded to loudly ring a bell. I experienced a rush of happy emotions I didn’t understand, and was hugged by the greeter telling me “Welcome Home,” which I understood even less. I would be welcomed home by many after that, and see signs on cars saying “Going Home.” What the hell was all of this welcome home thing about? Weirdos!

Looking back, I would hear the bells through the quiet beginning of a week on the Playa and coyly smile at the great fortune of the virgins coming through the gate.

Fuck You

I HAD ALWAYS HEARD THAT WHATEVER YOU WERE LOOKING FOR AT BURNING MAN, YOU WOULD FIND. Prior to attending, I found this a rather charming statement cute in its innocence. I discovered the amazing truth of this statement later. I also discovered that things you were definitely not looking for would come find you.

I was passed by a group of individuals, riding in a parade of art cars through Center Camp. All of the cars were black, the conveyance for a group of blackly clad people toting bullhorns, towing a black broken car with a burned-out frame of a rather large dinosaur atop. Before I could complete my first thought of “gee, how odd,” I heard one of the bullhorn toters say, with a rather matter-of-fact tone, FUCK YOU. Not in anger, not in jest, but in a neutral tone reminiscent of train saying “mind the gap” or “next stop, Old Town/Chinatown,” FUCK YOU. The passing crowds responded in turn. “Fuck you asshole!” Suddenly, I find myself enthusiastically shouting back to the riders, “Bullshit!”-shocking myself. I wasn’t quite ready to tell anyone to fuck off (hey, I’m new), and then laughed, as many others in the audience did.

I discovered later that this bit of crowd-participation-cum-performance-art was very likely the fine work of DPW, the hard working staff who set up the city. During the previous day’s ride, I found one element of their work in miles of long trash fence, staked out at regular intervals with metal fence bars. While a labor of love, this work (as well as many other tasks) would not dispose any group of people to giving off huggy New Age vibes.

While taken aback by this, I also discovered that their act of “radical self-expression” triggered a very necessary radical experience. Why should I be offended by someone telling me to fuck off? After all, shouldn’t I already be settled with the fact that I am who I am? I have my imperfections, my gifts, and, quite frankly, if someone doesn’t like that, why shouldn’t I take that as an opinion (which it is) and simply respect that?

How many times has an outside opinion caused me to do things which really didn’t provide any lasting reward? Become a doctor or a lawyer… Only date/marry people who are like X, Y, and Z… Work like a slave and make more money… Wear clothes of Brand X… Buy status symbols… Don’t embarrass us!

And how many times have I consented to believing these opinions, and thoughtlessly plodded along? Especially in the last few years of my profession, I had managed to get myself into a vicious cycle of cluelessly fucking myself over. The most truthful personal response to DPW should really have been “Why yes, I have been working extremely hard, doing just that to myself. Thanks for the reminder.” This experience was one of many that led me to arrive at The Burn as a spectator in my own life, and leave a more active participant in it.

To DPW, one of my favorite and most inspiring groups of performance artists, FUCK YOU!

(This selection was excerpted from a longer work submitted by the author:

Tiger Fur

by Pete Lee

AS A CHILD, LOOKING BACK, I THINK I COULD HAVE PLAYED MORE. I seem to recall someone mentioning that it was amazing to see a group of adults at play at The Burn. Hearing it for the first time, I found this statement to be rather incongruous. Adults? Play? When the hell did those two words really fit together?

I discovered, for the first time, that they really, truly do. It all started with an incident midweek, where earlier that day, Black Rock City Animal Control had decided that they needed to ‘capture’ Jaime (of Tiger Dome) who was wearing a tiger headdress and orange striped fur. Right now, I should explain the mission of BRC Animal Control for the not-yet-Burners: to protect the innocent animals of Black Rock City. Considering the not insignificant number of participants who wore animal costumes, their work was cut out for them. Animals would be caged, sedated with shots (of tasty sedating beverages), tagged and released. The way things worked out, Jaime wasn’t terribly fond of this. Long story short: we weren’t going to tolerate this behavior-the battle cry of “let’s raid those fuckers” goes up in our camp, and appropriately, a flurry of furry activity begins.

Angie and Jaime must have brought an entire bolt of extra orange tiger fur with them. This is in addition to the metric-ass-ton of tiger fur that covered the entire floor of a large dome space and a million other things. What to do with the extra fur became patently obvious: make tiger costumes! Why? Well, duh, because we need them!

Over the next two hours, the seamstresses of our camp, complete with sewing machines, went to work. The reserves of the Crafty Chick Army turns a bolt of tiger fur into skirty kilts, hats, headdresses, and a few other creative coverings. [N.B. Uncle Satan clearly won the award for best use of the least amount of tiger fur.]

Not being so quick on the draw (after all, a bolt of tiger fur has already been tapped into by the guys of a large theme camp), I am forced to rely on the generosity of Lycretia, who has brought a grip of white fur. What to make. Hmm. An idea for a white furry quasi bondage harness, tail, helmet and matching wrap pops into my head. Great idea! Five seconds before it all started, I would not have been caught dead wearing faux fur, a tail, or anything vaguely resembling bondage gear-or even thinking about any combination of the above. Two hours of light sewing, cutting, duct tape, my Sam Browne EMT belt, a key ring, the ever-required E6000 building glue, and a zip tie to hold the waist wrap shut complete the outfit. Unfortunately, no time to add the EL-wire-at least on this adventure!

We all jump onto our Garden of Eden art car, blasting the dance remix of Eye of the Tiger with Mr. T quotes (let’s not forget-our sister camp is Tiger Dome/Church of T), and drive to Playa Info for directions. Leaving speechless a group of individuals who, quite frankly, should already be accustomed to this sort of freakish, exuberant behavior, we find the location of BRC Animal Control. Game on!

A combination of riding, walking and biking tigers march to the BRC Animal Control camp. Oddly enough, we find the normally active group of Animal Control Officers to be unsurprised or in a deep state of shock as we roll up, growling. After locking up a representative of their group, sedating him with a PBR, and threatening to ‘mark’ their territory, we come to an agreement.

At the wedding of Angie and Jaime in Tiger Dome, I am surprised to see BRC Animal Control appear. What the hell? They mobilize and herd the drunk cats as Angie and Jaime roar off in a dragon trike. Then, this SWAT team disperses in an eerily organized manner. Thanks to them, no animals were killed during the making of this wedding!

The Funhouse we visited later was also cool, beautiful in its detail. I never really did that as a kid either. Walking through that, I became a kid again. Let’s hope I don’t grow up! (Still hate clowns, though.)

This sense of play applied to everything that happened at The Burn. I got to relearn something from my childhood: didn’t we pour our heart and soul into play and creativity as kids? As a kid, wasn’t that scrawled drawing the very best? It was our opus! We were better than the greatest artists of the world combined! And, really, it was. Why? Because it was done with incredible love, energy and devotion. This is when I discovered the true meaning of ‘Welcome Home.’ Burning Man was what I (and perhaps many of us) never got quite enough of as a kid: an opportunity to feel safe, to be simultaneously challenged and supported, to play and to grow. As artists, engineers, musicians, medical staff, chefs, and rangers-just to name a few-we were there to create our own opus, again. Playing in our own way. This is where Home really is.

As noted in the website, “If something feels like work, stop doing it.” 99% of my time at Burning Man was spent doing something fun, whether it involved mundane tasks, building something, creating art, or participating in the work of another artist. The other 1% of the time, I was taking a break or sleeping. This seems about the right ratio for kids-big or small. I can’t really think of anyone who wouldn’t find an opportunity to have fun at The Burn, as whatever they want to be-while respecting the boundaries of others at the same time.

A reminder to drivers in Black Rock City: SLOW – ADULTS AT PLAY.

(This selection was excerpted from a longer work submitted by the author:

A Long Long Time Ago…………

I remember how it all began
I drove my chevy to the playa but the playa was dry
As the ticking on the time clocks continued
them good old Minni-Reno boys (and all others)
help build our city.
But then the Man burned and the music wouldn’t play anymore
and in the streets the children screamed, the lovers cried,
and the poets dreamed but not a word was spoken
as all the pretty people drove away.

Photos By: Evrim D. Cakir (AKA Madonna)


The Circus del Fuego

by Chris Konkel

She was out front, moving like a golden fabric under the influence of the sky. The masses had been burned away by the sunrise, and those few who remained fled before it in silence, seeking shelter, shade, the infinite darkness, comfort. The Desert was wide open; the city, its arms spread like a supplicant. Sleep is death. I had died, and the world was pulsing with the joy of being alive.

The sun was still cool, new blood was pounding in my veins, my arteries, life carried out to every cell, and love returned, from every cell into and through the deep roadways of my being, the thoroughfares of my soul. I had followed the music across the sand, and now a silent call brought me on. I followed it, like a golden cord through the recklessly beautiful woman dancing among the bicycles out front, into the circus.

The Circus del fuego. Doesn’t translate correctly. The circus of the ending in English, but even then, how can you say that we were the performers, the lion tamers, the acrobats, the spectacle – and the audience. There was nothing to see, just those that still danced as the city settled down for its final sleep. There would be no beginning, no end, just endless motion, energy, dance is expression, shouting our stories with our bodies, dreams in motion: as I entered I was welcomed into the world with open arms, a new day, and this party would never end. This was my homecoming, and I was as clean and as pure in the sound as in a waterfall washing everything away but the core of my being. I felt like a star seeing the lights of the universe for the first time.

The music was our time and space, the dancers came to me and I to them, our gifts to one another our faces, our joy, our hearts wide open, and arms were embracing the desert sands. We were the circus that never ends. It beats still in my heart, and through my veins like a golden cord. Though the world has not changed, I see through that sunrise with golden eyes, and everything important has shifted to the sides, and the path before me is mine-one with the world or alone. El fuego is near y el empezar.

Yeah, You’re Startin’ to Feel the Burn

by John Parke

It’s my first burn.

We arrive tense and stressed from the City, the drive, the 11-hour days of preparation.

Everyone at camp is lying on the ground- immobile and dazed.

They seem different.

Relaxed, open, resonating, quick witted and expressive.

“Don’t worry, you’ll get the burn” – says a friend. My brow is furrowed, as I struggle to pitch the tent.

Then it started.

A pair of giant bunny slippers blew by with people driving them.

A solar-powered tricycle with a 12-foot high front wheel ambled along the horizon.

White dust muted all the images and colors of the desert and made them float in the air.

Women felt so safe and un-judged, they became as sexy and sensual as they had always wanted to be.

People greeted with smiles, jokes, tricks, treats, and if they were jerks, it didn’t matter at all because the who’s down in who-ville, tooted their bamboozles and wuzzles and drove about on their smizzles and fuzzles.

My skin burned. My hair stood on end, my legs powdered grey-white like a Masai tribesman. Charcoal body marks were applied to my forehead and chest during an impromptu ritual in a fierce sandstorm- even though I don’t really do that sort of thing.

Dehydrated, wondering, wandering – there is a black temple elevating up through the dust. Its shape is amazing. Arabian turrets spiraling up in air in pairs.

I get closer. The surface is amazing. Black and white Dover print art patterns. Superimposed, repeating images.

I get closer. The white spaces in the images are covered with writing. Poems, hopes, commitments, commemorations, proclamations of love, remembrances of people who have died.

I get closer, the temple – only four days old, feels ancient.

I get closer. It feels more powerfully sacred than any history-cluttered stained-glass cathedral I’d previously been in.

A beautiful woman gives my friend a necklace saying, “here, I want you to have this.” He talks about it on and off all day. Three days later I’m moved to tears as I watch him lovingly tie it around the neck of a healer who has just adjusted his body with resonant Tibetan Bowls. Her healing the most primitive, intuitive and powerful I’d ever seen. Next I’m in tears doubled over laughing about what a nightmare it would be to serve cotton candy (instead of snow cones) on the playa. Dry bright pink tumbleweeds blowing across the landscape, sticking to art cars and fake fur. People with the narrow white cones stuck on their faces in the heat. We are enchanted. We can’t stop laughing.

It cools down and the desert turns into a deep black ocean filled with shards of neon circling the Playa like rings around Saturn. A large metal scorpion whizzes by and blows fire from its tail. There’s a war going on at the border, submachine guns replaced by subwoofers – bombs replaced by bass. The earth thunders and shakes. Artillery rounds with rhythm. I picture soldiers and Iraqis setting aside strife for the favor of 4-4 time.

I discover gift giving is an art form. I experiment, adjust my phrasing, my attitude, my heart. I didn’t know it involved courage as well as non-attachment.

Gift receiving, I discover, is an art form. I shape my openness, repair my trust. My ability to express appreciation runs the gauntlet. At a certain level of joy, gross overstatements are not overstatements at all. You just raise the can to dust cracked lips and say, “This cold beer is from heaven, and so are you my friend.”

I return to camp. White dust dry, scorched red skin, and all smiles. My friend, who I haven’t seen in days, cracks a slight grin. “Yeah, you’re startin’ to feel the burn.”

Visions Through Dust and Darkness

by Kye Brackett

This experience is far too difficult to describe accurately so I will merely make some observations.

Being there, I found that, oddly enough, one of the most exciting experiences was merely the “knowing” of the things you don’t know. Not just discovering something new or seeing something for the first time, but the experience of finally having your own “a-ha” moment about Burning Man…and the time there is more of that experience than anything else. It’s everywhere.

I had the experience of feeling like I was in a cross between a great dream and the heaven (or afterlife) I’d always imagined (the way it would feel, not what it was supposed to look like or be about, but the joy, freedom and limitlessness of it all). You become part of a self-sufficient, sharing, open, non-judgmental, loving entity that is there to express itself and celebrate its own being.

Go with me for a bit…

Imagine being able to walk consciously into your dream state.

Imagine, too, that you are aware that you are about to do so; you can actually start to see it on the horizon, and then moment by moment feel it engulf you.

You feel yourself walking to a place where time and space are blurred together because there is so much space, and the conventional uses for time are rendered virtually obsolete (although time is nice for making appointments and gauging how long you’ve done something, neither one of those qualities is really valuable here). So, in the dark of a desert night, you find yourself excitedly wandering the playa heading from gleaming light to gleaming light, being passed by figures in all manner and array of dress, some lit up, some in complete shadow…all existing in an atmosphere of discovery, appreciation, adventure, freedom, sharing and love.

Even fear is obsolete, because as in your dreams, even when you are frightened you have this sense that it is your dream and you can, with the “flip of a (mental) switch” change the dynamic of your dream. It is like this at Burning Man. From joy to sorrow and back again in moments, all as you choose it.

Also, for me, the idea of “creation from nothing” has never been more powerfully present, felt and experienced than while I was there at Burning Man.

Each day there was a great day getting better.

Two examples of this amazing dream state and the randomness, perfection and absurdity of creation from nothing happening constantly are expressed in these two quick stories:

So, imagine sitting outside of a temple built in the desert. The temple is about 50-60 feet high and is a framework that allows you to walk inside. The workmanship and the detail on the temple is awe-inspiring and the memorials on the wall evoke emotion that creeps up on you and overtakes you ferociously as you become aware of the ability to express these emotions however you choose, with no worry about disturbing what is. After leaving this you walk across the playa, looking out over a vast flatland with art strewn about it for miles in every direction, and suddenly a wind storm approaches, as they often do out there in the desert on the playa. You pull your goggles down over your eyes and sit waiting for it to pass. Two minutes go by and the wind still stirs the dust so that all you see is the whiteness in which you are enveloped. You put your head down again for a moment as you feel the wind starting to subside, and as you look up, your ability to see increases such that you can actually see the dust instead of being in it. And as you view this wall of white, it parts, and from it emerges a PIRATE SHIP. Rolling through the desert, complete with a mast, and crows nest and people on it serving as crew, and maybe even serving cocktails… It rolls by into and out of view, as you continue on into the unknown, giggling uncontrollably as you hear yourself muttering, “What the fuck was that???”

It’s nighttime and the darkness is alive with light, wonder, music and magic. You walk on flat ground that you cannot see and you walk toward things that you cannot calculate the distance of or the time it will take to get there. Since the heavens and the earth blend so seamlessly, one cannot tell where the stars end and the earth begins …no matter, what you see is no mirage, it’s there, and if you move toward it, eventually you will arrive at it. So knowing this, you wander out into the night passing fluorescent blue and green gardens and day-glo fences all while 60-foot long choo-choo trains (complete with whistle) and dragons (complete with fire) roll by you and even an entourage of inhabitants from the Mad Max camp pass you as they shoot their (blank-filled) guns into the night celebrating, endlessly, their ability to be and be appreciated for being. And as you continue to walk you get lulled into a few moments of peace as you stare at the darkness underneath you that you assume is the ground. You look up and make out in the darkness, the figure of a man on a bicycle built for two. The reason you can see that is because the passenger on the back of the bicycle is peddling wildly as is the guy on the front, except the guy on the back is completely on fire.

You watch in astonishment, too awed to ask the questions of logic one asks in the “real” world when confronted by such a sight. You watch, mouth agape, and watch them roll on into the night, and a six-foot chicken walks up to you and says, “Now ain’t that some crazy shit?

These were only two of my thousands of experiences.

I must add, that as much as I love my peeps, (and I do), I spent not one moment thinking of or missing any of them. I didn’t even have my requisite, “Oh my God so-and-so would just love this…” I couldn’t do that because to do that would mean that I would risk not being present to a moment spent there…I was not willing to choose that. Not even for one moment. Interesting, too, is the fact that most of my time was spent alone, away from the friends I knew and had come with, and the same was true for them. And I actually loved having the experience of being the “newbie,” yet I cannot wait to pass on what those before gave me.

Wow. I never knew…

I imagined…but I never really knew.

There is so much to say and reminisce about, but I will not do that anymore here, I will simply encourage you to allow people to share it with you. Allow it to inspire you to say yes to it, so that when it shows up next year…you too will know what I now know and I now cherish.

The joy, power and inspiration of The Burn.

I love you all, and am so glad to be able to share this with you.

Kye Brackett
Freedomcommunity, Los Angeles